Restoring Our Seed: Extension Program to Train Farmers in Ecological Seed Crop Production

2004 Annual Report for LNE02-160

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2002: $135,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Matching Federal Funds: $15,000.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $54,000.00
Region: Northeast
State: Maine
Project Leader:

Restoring Our Seed: Extension Program to Train Farmers in Ecological Seed Crop Production


Restoring Our Seed coordinates a team of organic farmers, cooperative and ‘lay’ extension, and seed companies to conduct a training program in seed production and crop improvement in organic systems. Farmers learn how to integrate seed production into an ecological whole farm system, incorporate habitats for pollinators, select seed-crops for disease-resistance and local adaptability, and how to harvest and clean seed.

The team is conducting conferences and field days, producing a manual both bound and posted on, establishing a regional seed-saving network, and generating participatory on-farm breeding projects. A Seed Stewards educational curriculum is posted on our website and being taught to involve teachers and young people. The project represents a community-based approach to strengthen our regional seed supply.

Objectives/Performance Targets

1. To conduct a farmer training program in organic seed crop production to increase on-farm sustainability and farmer profit, with supporting community education.

2. To increase the number of farmers involved in organic seed production, on-farm selection and breeding for crop improvement.

3. To increase the quality and quantity of organic open-pollinated vegetable seed by growing out and improving seed for broad-scale availability.


Participant Numbers:

125 Farmers and Gardeners – Conference, Dec 4-5, Brattleboro, VT

20 farmers – Small Farm Field Day, Aug. 1, MOFGA, Unity, ME

45 farmers and gardeners – Field Workshops on On-Farm Crop Improvement, Sept. 24, 25, 26, MOFGA, Unity, Maine

ROS Seed Saving-Crop Improvement keynotes, workshops and exhibits:

North American Community Garden Conference, Toronto, CA

Midwest CSA Conference “Growing Together”, Nov 14, Tustin, Michigan (keynote)

Maine School Garden Conference, Oct 16, Belfast, ME

Farm Field Day, Jeremy Barker-Plotkin, Belchertown, MA

These field days and workshops reached about 250 people.

In addition:
Poster presentation in SARE Conference, Oct, Burlington

Exhibits at the NOFA-MASS and MOFGA Fairs

Articles or announcements in Fedco Catalogue, Seeds of Change Website, NOFA VT, MA, CONN. and GE-Free Maine newsletter and MOFGA website

Presentation to class at Hampshire College and Middlebury College Student Garden group

ROS Seed Production and Improvement Demonstration Sites:

Conn.- Bryan Connolly, Mansfield Center

Maine- Canaan Farm, CR Lawn, Eli Rogosa, Canaan, ME

MOFGA Common Ground, Unity, ME, Highmoor Cooperative Extension Farm, Monmouth, ME.

Vermont – Middlebury College Garden

Mass.- Simple Gifts Farm, J. Barker-Plotkin,
Belchertown, MA

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The year-long, three part ROS Training Program in organic seed crop production and on-farm improvement is being conducted and refined for its third year.

PART ONE involves participation in a winter training-conference, and receiving the illustrated ROS manual with instructions on seed-saving, on-farm crop improvement and breeding, featuring transcripts of our conference talks and interviews with experts. 117 manuals were distributed to attendees of the 2003 conference. During 2004, the manual was revised and lengthened to 226 pages and then distributed to the 125 farmers and gardeners taking part in our Dec. 4-5, 2004 conference. The manual can be downloaded for free on and is available for sale.

PART TWO involves implementing the program on each farmer’s own plots, and attending a summer field day at a demonstration seed farm to learn how to evaluate plants, plant health, disease levels, and how to select for seed. Because it is hard for farmers to get away during the busy summer season, we have photo-documented the crop evaluation and selection steps and shown them at our winter conferences.

PART THREE involves participating in a fall seed-cleaning workshop.

Because it takes time for farmers to gain expertise, we are striving to develop continuity among participating farmers. One measure of success is that more than 20 of the farmers who attended our 2003 conference returned this year to share their 2004 seed growing experiences.

Improved Seed
At each of the three ROS seed conferences, we have conducted farmer round-tables to identify critical breeding needs. As a result of the second conference in November, 2003, 35 farmers signed on to formally take part in on-farm crop improvement projects, choosing one or more among eight different projects. 90 packets of improved seed were distributed. The projects include:

1. Prudens Purple Tomato, We are selecting for early blight resistance and attractive shape in this firm, early tomato producing good market yields.

2. Pickling Cucumber, We are selecting from a complex cross of 3 superior cucumbers for: flavor, ideal length-width ratio, reduced disease, dark color and steady yield over the season.

3. Brassica Rapa Salad Greens. We are experimenting with a new approach, ëdancing greens, in which farmers cross vegetable varieties and sell the produce of the unstabalized genepools while continuing the selection for superior flavor, disease-resistance, color and shape. We have produced a genepool of Scarlet Mispoona (Mizuna x Tatsoi x Scarlet Ohno Turnip). This project is mentored by Frank Morton . The goal of -dancing greens- is to generate new and unique vegetables to compete with the uniform industrial organic salad lines.

4 Champion Radish. We are selecting for more uniform shape and disease resistance to rhizoctonia and pythium. So far it has proven difficult for farmers to produce seed crops because of the need for roots to vernalize before replanting for their seed-bearing cycle.

In addition to the four 2003 projects, in 2004 farmers added four new participatory breeding projects that include:

5. Brandy Rose, an heirloom tomato cross of Brandywine (larger, later, less uniform, tender with rich flavor) with Rose de Berne (unblemished with sweet flavor).

6. Potato Dance, a cross of Blossom with Caribe,
Island Sunshine, Prince Hairy, Green Mountain and Purple Peruvian. We will select for early
maturity, high yield, insect resistance and flavor.

7. Winter Luxury Pumpkin, an heirloom pumpkin
improvement project in which we are selecting for
longer storage and thicker stems.

8. Winter Greens
Brett Grohsgal, an organic farmer at Even Star Farm, Lexington Park, MD, has developed superior lines of arugula and salad mustards that not only survive but actually grow in the cold winter months, and are exceptionally flavorful and disease-free – as a result of 16 years of intense on-farm selection. Grohsgal has joined the ROS project and is providing his genepools to farmers for continued selection in the colder NE climate. The goal of -winter greens- is to generate cold-hardy vegetables that can be produced in the Northeast which can compete with the industrial organic salad lines shipped in during winter months.

The following are measurable outcomes for 2004. These represent the early stage of a long-term crop improvement process:

-First, farmers are being provided with training and hands-on experience in seed-saving, crop improvement and breeding.

-Second, farmers are building an on-going regional network to swap seeds, stories and expertise, and evolving a structure to organize on-going annual or biennial conferences based on the model we have created with this SARE funding.

-Third, farmers have identified their own crop improvement needs, and are developing improved cultivars adapted to the NE region.

-Fourth, increased seed company involvement may provide farmers with an additional income niche. Representatives of Johnny’s, High Mowing, Fedco, Seeds of Change and Turtle Tree have participated in the winter conferences, as well as at least one representative of a major seed wholesaler.

ROS has established the Dancing Seed Company to distribute the germplasm and instructions for on-farm crop improvement. Seeds and instructions are given free to all workshop or conference participants or sold to others for $2.00 a pack. Prior to the 2004 growing season, we distributed 55 germplasm packets in four crops to 31 participants. We invited farmers to grow them out, select for specified traits and, in the case of the brassica rapa greens, to make crosses, and to share what they learned at the 2004 conference and where successful, to share the next generation of seed. In adidtion to the 90 packets distributed at our 2004 conference, more will be sent out to participants in our 2005 grow-outs.

We are excited to report an unanticipated new component to our project. Our initial proposal addressed seed-saving and on-farm crop improvement for farmers to exchange or sell THEIR SEED. Now, farmers are pioneering on-farm crop improvement to sell their IMPROVED VEGETABLES as artisanally-bred -vintage vegetables-.

Like generations of farmers before us, ROS farmers are learning how to improve heirlooms by saving seed from the best plants adapted to their unique farm conditions. Year-by-year, our genepools will gradually produce vintage harvests of superior vegetables uniquely adapted to each of our farms. Our -Dancing Seed Company- will help farmers distribute their improved seed. We are encouraging farmers to market their own improved ‘vintage vegetables’, as an on-going, lomg-term seed-saving and crop selection process on their own farms.


Jack Kertesz
Demonstration Site Farmer
204 Clark Rd.
Unity, ME 04988
Office Phone: 2075683444
Bryan O’Hara

Lead Farmer
373 Tobacco St.
Lebanon, CT 06249
Office Phone: 8604234834
Bryan Connolly
Demonstration Site Farmer
76 Warrenville Rd.
Mansfield Center, CT 06250
Office Phone: 8604238305
Jay Leshinsky
Garden Coordinator
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT
Office Phone: 8023883850
Dr.Mark Hutton
Maine Cooperative Extension
Highmoor Farm
PO Box 179
Monmouth, ME 04259
Office Phone: 2079332100
Dr. John Navazio
Extension Trainer
PO Box 1988
Port Townsend, WA 98368
Office Phone: 3606768622
Will Bonsall

39 Bailey Rd.
Industry, ME 04938
Office Phone: 2077783387
Dr. Raoul Robinson

Breeder Consultant
445 Provost Lane
Fergus, ON N1M2N
Brett Grohsgal

Even Star Farm
Far Cry Road
Lexington, MD
Frank Morton
Extension Trainer
PO Box 1509
Philomath, OR 97370
Office Phone: 5419294068
Jeremy Barker-Plotkin
Demonstration Site Farmer
22 Poole Rd.
Belchertown, MA 01007
Office Phone: 4133239608